n Boyhood, Coetzee recalls that his own childhood relationship to Jesus was a combination of disbelief and an odd kind of intimacy. “Though he himself is an atheist and has always been one,” Coetzee writes, referring to himself in the third person, “he feels he understands Jesus better” than his religion teacher does. “He does not particularly like Jesus—Jesus flies into rages too easily—but he is prepared to put up with him.” Still, Coetzee finds himself drawn to Jesus, in particular when he comes to the point in the Gospel of Luke when the sepulcher is discovered to be empty: “If he were to unblock his ears and let the words come through to him, he knows, he would have to stand on his seat and shout in triumph. He would have to make a fool of himself forever.” I
It is this kind of foolishness—this rejection of worldly wisdom, in the spirit of Jesus’s own exhortation to imitate the lilies of the field—that Coetzee dramatizes in his two Jesus novels. For as Childhood and Schooldays develop, it becomes increasingly clear that the figure of David is meant to illustrate, or incarnate, the scandalous freedom of Jesus’s teachings. Yet Coetzee brings out the parallels with a light, even teasing touch.
For instance, at the outset of Childhood, Simón tells everyone who will listen that he is not David’s father; rather, he met the boy on the ship that brought them to Novilla, and his mission is to reunite the child with his mother, which he is certain he can do, though he doesn’t know her name or what she looks like. Soon enough, Simón decides that he has found her in Inés, a woman with no recollection of David and no obvious qualifications for motherhood.